Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Morning

Christmas Morning
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
December 21,  2014
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Micah 5: 2-5a
John 1: 1-14

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. [1]

I've been excited about this sermon. When you preach a series, you always look forward to the final one, and when you preach messages parallel to Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" this final scene is always front and center because that story is about redemption, and the redemption of Scrooge is so powerful. So many forces work together to save him, and really what saves him is the Truth of What Christmas is, and what Christmas means. God comes into our world, and changes our world forever, and if we remain unchanged by this wondrous event, we are greatly missing something, missing everything, missing out, and Scrooge is a good example of missing, but we find that despite how extreme he is, there is no way to avoid, when reading novel, how much more like him we really are than like Bob Cratchitt. The movies are different, Cratchitt is like us, and Scrooge is so utterly not, but I reread the original novella this week, hoping to gain some insight from the story, and was overwhelmed at what I found, how much more human Scrooge is, very much mean and miserable, but very much human, and how tightly Dickens' words fit into the context of what I've been talking about. So much is missing from the text, when all you do is see one of the many movie versions. As great as they are, there is some really poignant parts that are missing. . . and as I was reading it this week I kept coming across them.
For instance when the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge the scene when he loses his sweetheart. . . when he chooses his money instead of her. . . it is quite a heart wrenching scene because it is not his choice, she comes to him, and says "Ebenezer your love for me has been supplanted by a new love, and I can't compete." He tries half heartedly to deny it, but she knows him so well, and she is not thinking of herself, but rather for him. She says to him, that "Fear of the world" is the great cause of his grief. I had no idea, but that is exactly what I have been preaching our great trouble is, the world's great trouble is fear. . . fear of so much, to which faith in the Christmas world is such a remedy for. Those Christmas Angels beckon us to "Fear Not" though the shepherds were sore afraid.
But the most important thing that I found in my reading was this moment of conversion, that moment when Scrooge wakes up a changed man. . . I kept thinking what a model for us, what a perfect model of how Christmas should affect us. . . and we have to wonder if it doesn't, how much more could it, should it, would it mean to us. If it was all new to us. If Christmas was something new and fresh and different, and a real new experience. . . like it is for Scrooge. Check out that scene. . . I put it in the bulletin.
Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!
"I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!" Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed.  "The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.  Oh Jacob Marley!  Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this.  I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!"
He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call.  He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears.
His hands were busy with his garments all this time; turning them inside out, putting them on upside down, tearing them, mislaying them, making them parties to every kind of extravagance.
"I don't know what to do!" cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath. . . "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy.  I am as giddy as a drunken man.  A merry Christmas to everybody!  A happy New Year to all the world!  Hallo here!  Whoop!  Hallo!"

Look at that reaction. Time is such a big factor in the novel. . . one of those things often missed. Time. . . originally the ghosts are to come three nights in a row, each night at 1:00 a.m., but that would miss Christmas, and so instead for some reason, some idea of time stopping for Scrooge, he doesn't realize that its all happened in one night until he wakes up, and realizes that he hasn't missed Christmas. He realizes he still has time. . . so not only does he get redeemed, but he gets a few days back. . . more than he thought he would, and that makes him even more excited. He's gained time. It's like for him, something like when you wear an old coat you haven't worn in years, and it just happens to have a twenty bill in.. . totally unexpected. . . that's time is for Scrooge. He has time, he says, to make amends. The best time for making amends is now. . . it always is. Once you decide you want to make amends, that you need to make amends, wouldn't it be great to be also able to turn back that clock and do it yesterday. That's where Scrooge is. There is that movie "When Harry Met Sally" where Billy Crystal says to Meg Ryan at the end. . . when you spend  your entire life trying to find someone you want to spend the rest of your life with, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible."
Then there are the Spirits themselves, and Scrooge says he's going to live in them Past, Present, and Future, that each will live in his heart. They will "strive' in his heart. . . always working through him, what a great word "strive." And of course we're to think, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit there. It is a set of three in a Christian context. The Trinity is very much alive in the time scenario of past, present, and future. . . just like a God completely timeless, living I am, then, now, and always. And then you have Jacob Marley's name, Jacob, no coincidence that Dickens chose the name of the father of our faith, Jacob, Israel, that trickster who did all kinds of bad things, but never succeeded in separating himself from God's love. . . it's a great subtle message about the great steadfast love and mercy of God, shining through this redemption story.
But then look at how it affects him. He's "fluttered" he's glowing" all with "good intentions" his voice is broken, he was sobbing violently and his face was wet with tears. He's trying to get his clothes on, but he can't focus on them. He puts them inside out, upside own, he tears them, mislays them, and he is becoming "extravagant." Extravagant the very opposite of a hoarding miserable miser, knowing only the comfort of cold hard coins, now he is filled with unkempt extravagance. He proclaims, "I don't know what to do." The man who had always been in such control, every action and thought coldly calculated, emotionless, and cold, now laughing and crying. . . he doesn't know what to do. He's light as a feather. . . he's happy as an angel. . . he has reclaimed the merriness and joy of his youth, back at old Fezziwig's. . . he is giddy, like a drunken man. . . and out of him flows Merry Christmas. . . to everybody. . . happy New Year to all the world. . . his world has grown from simply himself. . . now outward. . . and not just to a few but to everyone. He can't contain his love. . . his excitement. . . all control he had is gone. . . and he is living completely in the moment. . .caught up in the moment. . . for he has no fear of the future. . . no regret of the past. . . because all of it is being made right, right now, in this moment. . . the entire world. . . the entire creation. . . everything. . .every minute. . . every single momentary idea is caught up right now. . . flowing out of him without any thought. . . he is caught up and living completly changed. . . completely outside of his former self. . . now alive, and now his true God Made Self, and is ready to share with the world and save the world, and love the world. This is what Christmas does for Scrooge.
Does it do it for us? Does the rest fall away? Are we so caught up in it that we lose ourselves completely? Truly. . .probably not.  I mean we like Christmas. We all like Christmas. It makes us feel special, feel warm and fuzzy inside. . . we get to see the joy on Children's faces. . . we get to remember the joy we felt as children. . . new toys. . . special decorations. . . waking up at 4 just to start it all off. We were driving home from the Nativity at the Norton's farm the other night, and I was pointing out the lights to Clara and Coralee on either side of the road. . . and Clara said, "It truly is a magical world." And it is. . . it's new to them. . . like it was to Scrooge. . . kids feel it, everything is so special and so new.
That is where we need to get because that is what Christmas is. . . newness, the world is made new, and we are made new. It changes us. . . it has to, or we've missed it. John's gospel starts so beautifully talking about what Christmas really means. The Word. .. . becoming flesh. . . light shining through the darkness. . . the darkness trying to overcome it, but not being able to. .. people in their confusion choosing the darkness over the light, because they know no better. Is it possible that we have become so used to Christmas that it is shadowed, that the light is not shining brightly, because it has been shining for so long and we're used to it, we have become accustomed to Christmas. . .hear that word "Accustomed?" Have our customs become dead and routine? What can we do to shake things up?
I have tried in this series to get us to look at Christmas a different way, by looking at the world in a way we rarely do. A way that takes into account the past and where we've been, to bring into greater focus, where we are and where we are going. . . Christmas fits into that, because no matter how many times we've celebrated Christmas. . . it's new. . . it always comes with the possibility of newness and life. . .and if it isn't new for  you. . . then there is nothing like now to make amends, and you'll find that you have all the time you need if you start now. If you let this Christmas be  the one where God's covenant is really written into your heart forever, the spirit can strive in your heart, your energy an amass, overflow out of you. O to dream for that kind of experience? Please God, let it be so for us today, on this Christmas Morning.

[1]The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 (electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version.) (Jn 1:1-14). Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.